BRICK – Disabled Korean War veteran Walter Brandon, 85, watched in amazement as seven workers hung sheetrock, installed new floors and replaced a bathroom while he sat in his living room recliner during the organized chaos.
The long-time Lake Riviera resident and his wife, Patricia, were the recipients of the 200th home repair by Northern Ocean County Habitat for Humanity (NOHFH) which helps low-income homeowners restore and maintain their homes by completing needed home improvement projects.
Three months ago, Walter took a spill in his kitchen, and when he woke up in the hospital nearly two days later, had no idea what had happened.
He had broken his hip, hit his head, and sustained a complex fracture to his shoulder.
Before the fall, Walter had two heart attacks, two bouts with cancer, prostate surgery, ankle surgery and more.
According to Homeowner Services Manager for NOHFH, Diana Truppa, who handles the applications for home repair, one of the goals for the program is to keep seniors in their homes, or “aging in place,” by making the home safer and ADA compliant for walkers and wheelchairs.
The Brandons’ concrete front steps had crumbled to the point where the couple was unable to climb them with their walkers.
It took one day for NOHFH employees construction supervisor Bob Conway and foreman Todd Reingardt and a crew of volunteers to replace the stairs. The once-narrow concrete stairs had been replaced with a wide, walker-friendly, wooden plank staircase.
Next up was leveling the floors in the Brandons’ home, which had settled and become uneven over the 35 years the couple has lived there.
By the end of the week, the bathroom would be modified to replace a tub (which the Brandons could not step into) with a shower install; the toilet would be replaced with one that is ADA compliant; grabs bars would be installed; and the bathroom entrance would be widened.
Workers would also complete repairs on a back room, which had been nearly destroyed three years ago when a tree fell over, smashed through the ceiling and landed on the floor.
Construction supervisor Conway said that helping a handicapped veteran was wonderful.
“They have accessibility issues – moving things around is a challenge,” he said. “Each little piece is not difficult, but together it’s a big job. Luckily the house is structurally okay.”
Walter said that he and his wife were overwhelmed.
“It’s hard to believe. It’s wonderful, I can’t explain it,” he said. “I wanted to do one room a time, but we didn’t have the money.”
The home was chosen through established procedures, where a committee selects an applicant based on need and income, explained NOHFH Executive Director Suzan Fichtner.
“It’s not a handout, it’s a hand-up,” she said, and homeowners are expected to be present and help with the work to the best of their ability.
“The partnership piece is important. In this case, the Brandons are sharing their story, making coffee, writing thank you notes and things of that nature,” Fichtner said.
Walter became aware of the home repair program through their next-door neighbor, Vinny Chavin, a fellow Marine Corps veteran in his 40s, who checks on the elderly couple twice a day.
“Vinny was talking to me and he said Habitat is working on a house up the street, so he talked to them and I gave them a call,” Walter said.
“In the Marine Corps, we’re taught to look out for each other,” he added.
Fichtner said funding for the home repair projects comes from a multitude of sources. For the Brandon house, Ferguson Plumbing Supply not only donated the plumbing fixtures, but three of their employees had volunteered to install the floors. Ferguson has committed to four or five home repair projects for veterans this year, Fichtner said.
That’s true, said Ferguson sales manager Brian Cavossa, who was also a Marine Corps veteran.
“This is a team building event for us. The fact that Walter is a Marine Corps veteran makes it even more special to me,” he said. “We’re doing the floors today, and when my wife finds out I can do this, she’s going to want me to replace our floor,” he joked.
Other funding sources include Avalon Flooring, who supplied the vinyl plank floors, and a portion of a $30,000 CDBG grant from the township, earmarked for a number of homes in Brick.
Four home repair projects have already been completed in town, and there are two more waiting, Fichtner said. Home Depot donated sheetrock and windows, and there are also other commercial and individual donors, Fichtner said.
Brick Memorial High School, Georgian Court University, Donovan Catholic and Toms River High School South are affiliated campus chapters who hold fundraisers and work on projects for NOHFH, she said.
The American Red Cross partners with NOHFH to install smoke alarms and train the home occupants in fire safety. The Brandons had no smoke or carbon monoxide detectors in their home.
For more information, or to donate or volunteer, call Fichtner at 732 228-7962 x 103, or visit nohfh.com.